5 October 2023

Would your business be better if it had traffic lights?

Real-world solutions to real work problems.

Person in a busy office, stopped at traffic lights.

Knowing when to keep going and when to stop is often what separates the world’s most successful companies from the rest.


Because just like on the roads, in business there are times when you need to stop some things in order to give others the chance to really get going.  But it’s not just about stopping things that aren’t working. It’s also about constantly trying to improve things – however good they might already be.


Cadbury, the iconic chocolate brand, is a great example of a company that really understands this.

Every so often a news report will come out saying that they have stopped making one of their well-known products. This is often followed by widespread disbelief and even despair amongst their customers - how can they do this to us? Particularly when by any normal measure these products have been spectacularly successful and are usually household names all over the world.


But as the richest American in history, John D. Rockefeller once said, “Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great”.


Cadbury’s reason is also very practical. Whenever they launch a new product, it’s in competition with all of Cadbury’s other products (as well as other brands) for the prime shelf space in shops that’s essential to their business. If a new product consistently outsells one of the older ones - therefore no matter what it tastes like, from a business point of view it’s better - then that older one has to go. Literally. Because space has to be made on the shelf to take the next new product to be launched as they start the whole process over again.


Unfortunately for most businesses (including Cadbury), most of the time business decisions aren’t as simple as replacing one product with another better-selling one. It’s a lot less straightforward.

But it’s much easier if you use a good system to help you.


And one of the very best of these is called START, STOP, CONTINUE.

You can use it to manage your business. You can use it to manage your staff. And you can even use it to manage yourself!


At each step in the process you ask very straightforward questions:

START. What aren’t we doing that maybe we should try out?

STOP. What are we doing that perhaps we should stop – or at least pause?

CONTINUE. What have we been doing that has proved it’s worth continuing with?


While it is as simple as it sounds, to get the best out of it we have some recommended tips:

  • It’s not just for generating big ideas or making big changes. It works just as effectively on small things, on the details, which of course incrementally all add up.
  • You don’t have to follow the Start, Stop, Continue sequence in that order. It can also be Stop, Start, Continue. Because often you’ll be faced with a problem/solution type situation; where you already know what needs to be stopped, but you need to start focusing on solutions.
  • If you’re going to use it as a framework for performance reviews, don’t tell the employee that this is what you’re doing. Because they’ll be far too focused on the ‘Stop’ part. Just use it to structure your thoughts ahead of time – most managers are desperately trying to think of what to say!
  • Just because you’re using Start, Stop, Continue, it’s not essential to start or stop anything as a result. In fact, a lot of the time you probably won’t. But this doesn’t mean that regularly going through the process is any less important - because it keeps everyone on their toes looking for ways to improve.
  • It’s a great way to structure team discussions or brainstorming sessions; but try to make these groups as level in terms of seniority as possible. You hardly ever get really useful results when some of the people involved are afraid to speak up.


Finally, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of people who regularly use the Start, Stop, Continue method find it hugely liberating. If everyone around them understands the system, and that stopping isn’t about failure but is all part of a continuing process of trying to find new and better ways of doing things, then they feel freer to offer up something new - maybe even something potentially game-changing - without fear of criticism if it doesn’t succeed.

We hope this has been useful. And perhaps next time you’re stopped at a traffic light you might have something to think about.


This article is part of a series about real-world solutions to real work problems - that you don’t need an MBA to understand.

Click here to read: How could the world's most successful sports team really help your business?


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